Behind Enemy Lines (2001, directed by John Moore)


When hotshot Navy flight officer Chis Burnett (Owen Wilson) is shot down while doing a reconnaissance mission over Bosnia, he finds himself stranded behind enemy lines.  While Burnett tries to avoid being captured by a Serbian general and find evidence of illegal military operations in yje demilitarized zone, Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) tries to mount a rescue operation.  Standing in his way are the NATO bureaucrats who would rather just leave Burnett to his fate than run the risk of disrupting the peace process.

Behind Enemy Lines was released early in Owen Wilson’s acting career and, after years of watching him in buddy comedies and eccentric character roles, it can be strange to see him playing a traditional leading man, much less an action hero.  Burnett has his goofball moment but, for the most part, this is probably as dramatic a role as you’re ever going to see Owen Wilson perform.  Once you get over the fact that he’s Owen Wilson and still speaking in the same stoner cadences that he’s used in everything from Bottle Rocket to Inherent Vice, Wilson actually gives a decent performance as Burnett.  The fact that he’s not a traditional leading man actually makes the film’s action scenes more exciting.  If Burnett had been played by someone like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, you would never have any doubt about his survival.  With Owen Wilson in the role, you’re no longer quite as sure that he’s going to be able to make his way to safety.

Gene Hackman also gave a good performance, even if he didn’t really do anything with the role that he hadn’t already done with all of the other authority figures that he played from Unforgiven on.  Hackman’s intimidating as Reigart.  When Burnett says that he wants to retire from the Air Force, Reigart looks like he’s about to reach over and rip off his face.  But Hackman has so much natural authority that you understand why his men automatically respect Reigart and follow his every order.  Burnett is lucky to have him on his side because there’s no way Reigart’s going to let someone from NATO push him around.

When Behind Enemy Lines first came out, it was not loved by the critics.  They complained that the movie was heavy-handed and predictable.  They were right but it really didn’t matter.  Behind Enemy Lines made a lot of money because it was a legitimate crowd pleaser.  I remember seeing it when it first came out.  This was less than month after 9-11 and the theater was packed with people who, like me, were still dealing with the greatest national trauma of our lifetime.  When Owen Wilson killed the men who were trying to kill him, the audience cheered.  When Reigart said that there was no way he going to abandon an American behind enemy lines, the audience applauded.  By the time the film ended, everyone was on their feet and chanting “USA!  USA!”  (At least, that’s the way I remembered it.)  Critics be damned, at that time, Behind Enemy Lines was the movie that we needed.

Behind Enemy Lines was a huge box office success so, of course, it got a sequel that wasn’t as good.  I’ll review Behind Enemy Lines: Axis of Evil tomorrow.

Music Video Of The Day: God’s Gonna Cut You Down (2006, dir by Tony Kaye)


This is a case where I like the song more than the music video.  This video was actually filmed three years after Johnny Cash’s death.  As far as “official” music videos are concerned, I always feel like a musician should have some sort of say into how their music is visually interpreted.  Obviously, Johnny Cash wasn’t around to have anything to say about the video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

Since Cash wasn’t available, director Tony Kaye filled the video with cameos from other actors and musicians, a few of whom (though not many) were previous Cash collaborators.  Among the celebs who make an appearance in this video: David Allan Coe, Patricia Arquette, Travis Barker, Peter Blake, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp, the Dixie Chicks, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper, Terrence Howard, Jay-Z, Mick Jones, Kid Rock, Anthony Kiedis, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Lee, Adam Levine, Shelby Lynne, Chris Martin, Kate Moss, Graham Nash, Busy Philipps, Iggy Pop, Lisa Marie Presley, Q-Tip, Corinne Bailey Rae, Keith Richards, Chris Rock, Rick Rubin, Patti Smith, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Brian Wilson, and Owen Wilson.  Some of the celebs — like Dennis Hopper and Kris Kristofferson — seem like they naturally belong there.  Others seem so out-of-place that you’ll want to throw something.  You know how that works,

God’s Gonna Cut You Down is a traditional folk song.  I’ve heard countless versions of it.  I prefer Cash’s version to the more traditional gospel arrangement but, then again, I tend to find gospel music to be dull in general.  Cash’s arrangement brought new life to an old song.

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)


In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.

Insomnia File #34: The Minus Man (dir by Hampton Fancher)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were unable to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1999 film, The Minus Man!

The Minus Man is a strange little film about a rather odd man.  Vann (Owen Wilson) is a drifter.  He avoids questions about his past with the skill of someone who specializes in being whatever he needs to be at the moment.  When he rents a room from Doug and Jane Durwin (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl), he tells them that he’s only drunk one beer over the course of his entire life, he always works, he always pays his rent on time, and that he’s never smoked “the dope.”  He says it so earnestly that it’s difficult to know whether you should take him seriously or not.  And yet, Vann is so likable and so charmingly spacey that you can’t help but understand why people automatically trust him.  Vann succeeds not because people believe him but because they want to believe him.

Vann’s new in town.  As he explains to a cop who pulls him over, he’s just interested in seeing the countryside.  From the minute that Vann shows up, he’s accepted by the community.  He goes to a high school football game and befriends the local star athlete (Eric Mabius).  He tries to help repair Doug and Jane’s marriage, which has been strained ever since the disappearance of their daughter.  With Doug’s aid, Vann gets a job at the post office and proves that he wasn’t lying when he said he was a hard worker.  Vann even pursues a tentative romance with the poignantly shy and insecure Ferrin (Janeane Garofalo).

In fact, it’s easy to imagine this film as being a sweet-natured dramedy where a drifter comes into town for the holidays and helps all of the townspeople deal with their problems.  However, from the first time we see him, we know that Vann has some issues.  As Detective Graves (Dennis Haysbert) puts it, Vann is a “cipher, a zero.”  There’s nothing underneath the pleasant surface.  Of course, Graves doesn’t really exist.  Neither does his partner, Detective Blair (Dwight Yoakam).  They’re two figments of Vann’s imagination.  They appear whenever Vann is doing something that he doesn’t want the world to find out about.

Whenever the urge hits him, Vann kills people.  When we first meet him, he’s picking up and subsequently murdering a heroin addict named Casper (Sheryl Crow).  Vann makes it a point to use poison because he says that it’s a painless death.  Vann also says that he’s doing his victims a favor, as he feels that the majority of them no longer want to live.  Vann is the type of killer who, after having committed his latest murder, sees nothing strange about volunteering to help search for the missing victim.

Like a lot of serial killer films, The Minus Man cheats by giving all of the best lines to the killer.  In real life, most serial killers are impotent, uneducated losers who usually end up getting caught as a result of their own stupidity.  In the movies, they’re always surprisingly loquacious and clever.  While Vann may not be a well-spoken as Hannibal Lecter, he’s still a lot more articulate than the majority of real-life serial killers.  As I watched the film, it bothered me that we didn’t really learn more about Vann’s victims.  (It would have been a far different film if someone had mentioned that Vann’s third, unnamed victim was “Randy, who was just having a bite to eat while shopping for a present for his little girl’s birthday.”)  Too often, The Minus Man seemed to be letting Vann off the hook in a way that a film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or even American Psycho never would.

That said, The Minus Man may be occasionally uneven but it’s still an intriguing and sometimes genuinely creepy film.  The Minus Man makes good use of Owen Wilson’s eccentric screen persona and Wilson gives a very good performance as a man who has become very skilled at hiding just how empty he actually is.  Much like everyone else in the film, you want to believe that there’s more to Vann than meets the eye because, as played by Wilson, he’s just so damn likable.  Over the course of the film, Vann and Doug develop this weird little bromance and, as good as Wilson is, Brian Cox’s performance is even more unsettling because we’re never quite sure what Doug may or may not be capable of doing.  Even Janeane Garofalo gives a touching and believable performance as a character who you find yourself sincerely hoping will not end up getting poisoned.

With all that in mind, I wouldn’t suggest watching this film if you’re trying to get over insomnia.  This is the type of unsettling film that will keep you awake and watching the shadows long after the final credits roll.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian

Music Video of the Day: Christmas In L.A. by The Killers ft. Dawes (2013, dir. Kelly Loosli)


We’re down to the last music video with Harry Dean Stanton that I can find.

Did you ever want to see a music video with Harry Dean Stanton just wanting to be left alone to drink and smoke rather than listen to Owen Wilson’s problems? I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

Okay, he does provide some “words of wisdom” at the start of the video. Granted, Wilson has to pressure him to answer a question by ignoring his simple “no”, but he does talk to him. After that, it’s leave-me-alone time.

In reality, they did three feature films together. Also, they share in common that people will likely remember both of them for a film that had “Paris” in the title–Midnight In Paris and Paris, Texas. Both of which I’m sure would give this video more meaning if I watched them again back-to-back with this video.

The rest of the video is a sad Christmas song about being alone in the reality behind the glamour of Hollywood that you can’t leave because your career depends on you being where the jobs are.

I like the animation. It feels like a cross between Do The Evolution by Pearl Jam and Don’t Answer Me by The Alan Parsons Project.

It has an animated Warren Zevon in it. He shows up when they mention Carmelita since that is one of Zevon’s songs. There’s also a character named Carmelita in Paris, Texas. Unfortunately, it’s been forever since I’ve watched it, so I couldn’t tell you about her character.

Unlike the other videos Stanton was in, this one actually has his name in the song. I think it’s a good one to go out on.

Rest in peace, Harry Dean Stanton.

Harry Dean Stanton Retrospective:

  1. Those Memories Of You by Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris (1987, dir. White Copeman)
  2. Get Rhythm by Ry Cooder (1988, dir. David Fincher)
  3. Heart Of Stone by Dwight Yoakam (1996, dir. Dwight Yoakam)
  4. Sorry You Asked? by Dwight Yoakam (1996, dir. Dwight Yoakam)
  5. Nothing To Believe In by Cracker (1996, dir. Samuel Bayer)
  6. Stop by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (2003, dir. Charles Mehling)
  7. Dreamin’ Of You by Bob Dylan (2008, dir. ???)

Film Review: Permanent Midnight (dir by David Veloz)


Meh.  Who cares?

That was largely my reaction to watching the 1998 film, Permanent Midnight.  In this film, Ben Stiller plays Jerry Stahl, a real-life screenwriter who had a fairly successful career going in the 80s and early 90s.  He came out to Los Angeles looking to be a serious writer but, instead, he ended up writing for silly puppet show and getting addicted to heroin.  He also married a British television executive named Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley), so that Sandra could get her green card.  When the star of a show that he writes for tells him to kick his habit or lose his job, Jerry ends up smoking crack cocaine with a new dealer (Peter Greene).  When Sandra tells him that she’s pregnant, Jerry responds by shooting up in the bedroom.  When he’s trusted to spend the day taking care of his baby daughter, he drives her around the seediest sections of Los Angeles while he searches for his drug dealer.  As the baby cries beside him, Jerry shoots heroin into his jugular.  Jerry ends up unemployable and abandoned by every friend that he had.  He works at a fast food restaurant, or at least he does until he meets another recovering addict (Maria Bello).  She’s the one to whom he tells his story, in between sex and bouts of impotence.  In the end, what’s left for Jerry Stahl to do but write a book and then a movie about his life as a junkie?

It’s a harrowing story and I guess Stahl deserves some credit for writing the screenplay for a movie that doesn’t exactly make him look good.  However, Permanent Midnight runs into the same problem that afflicts most movies about drug addiction.  With very few exceptions, drug addicts are just not that interesting.  The only thing more boring than watching someone shoot up is then having to listen to that person explain why he shoots up.  (Trainspotting is the obvious exception but Trainspotting benefits from Danny Boyle’s frenetic direction, Ewan McGregor’s explosively charismatic lead performance, a witty script, and a killer soundtrack.  These are things that Permanent Midnight lacks.)  The film attempts to build up some sympathy for Stahl by telling us about his difficult childhood, his father’s suicide, and his mother’s instability but, in the end, Jerry is a junkie who shoots up in front of his baby.  Regardless of how crappy his childhood was, it’s hard to care about whether or not he ever gets his shit together.  Mostly, you just want someone to step in and make sure he never gets near that baby again.

Permanent Midnight makes another mistake, one that is all too common when it comes to films about troubled artists.  It continually tells us that Jerry is a talented and important writer without ever showing us any evidence of that fact.  We’re supposed to feel bad that Jerry is stuck working on a sitcom called Mr. Chompers but, at no point, does the film really convince us that he deserves anything better.  Everyone says that Jerry is talented but we don’t really get to see any evidence of that fact.  It’s hard not to feel that maybe Jerry should just be happy that, unlike the majority of writers in Los Angeles, he actually has a steady job.

(Jerry does get one good line, when he appears on The Maury Povich Show to promote his book and says, “People always ask, ‘What’s the worst thing heroin drove you to do?’  I always answer, ‘showing up on Maury.'”)

Of course, for most people, the main appeal of seeing Permanent Midnight will be the chance to see Ben Stiller shooting up heroin while soaked in withdrawal sweat.  Stiller gives a serious performance, good enough that you regret that his acting career now seems to mostly consist of starring in bad movies and making cameos in even worse ones.  There’s actually a lot of familiar faces in Permanent Midnight: Elizabeth Hurley, Maria Bello, Fred Willard, Owen Wilson, Sandra Oh, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and others.  They all give good enough performance but ultimately, this is aimless and ultimately rather frustrating movie.

Cars 3 Extended Sneak Peek


It’s been 11 years since Disney/Pixar released Cars. The audience has grown up, and from the looks of it, the story tied to Cars 3 is trying to grow with them. Another trailer was recently released, this time featuring Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) new nemesis, the ultra modern rookie sensation Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). It also introduces Cruz Ramirez, another character that appears to be a new trainer for McQueen. Most of the favorites will also be returning for this installment. Lightning is now standing in the same spot as the legendary Doc Hudson when he first met him. Is Lightning finally at the twilight of his career, or does have one more good race left in him?

Brian Fee, who’s worked on the other Cars films as well as a number of other Pixar projects , gets to sit in the Director’s chair this time around. I just hope it’s as dark as Toy Story 3.

Disney/Pixar also released a profile trailer, showing off some of the new characters.

Lightning McQueen:

Jackson Storm:

Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo):